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Coping with the Village

Coping with the Village

I’m sure you’ve all heard the cliche that it takes an entire village to raise a child, and I agree with this. I really do. I appreciate so much that I live in a neighbourhood where I know, not only that my children are safe, but that there are people who actively care about their well-being.

I can let me kids go on their own to the park without hesitation because I know that they’ll never be out of earshot of someone who knows them. There will always be somebody to help if they fall off their bike. There will be someone to intervene if there’s bullying. There will be someone to call me if there’s an emergency. My kids can literally knock on the door of someone they know at every other house down several blocks in each direction.

Our family knows all the kids in the area from the small neighbourhood walking school. We know most of the parents in the area for the same reason. We know some neighbours because they’re gardeners like we are, others because they walk their dogs past our house, attend the same church, see us at the library, come over for Rotary potlucks, or meet up for poetry groups. It’s wonderful.

It’s also horrible, because the more we get to know people the more likely it is that we run into some inter-personal conflict. Most often we’re talking about minor, resolvable issues, but sometimes these things can really escalate.

For example, on the minor end of things, I have an otherwise friendly neighbour who doesn’t love the music that gets played at my house. I make sure that the volume is down and that everything is off at a reasonable time, but especially in the summer, when my kids have the radio on in the backyard, or when I roll into the driveway with the windows down and the tunes up, I know he’s plenty annoyed.

On the other hand, there’s a guy who lives in the five-plex on the other side of us who tends to let his dog crap in my garden. There’s no fence between the two properties (which I love), and he walks through my backyard as a shortcut to the side street (which I’ve let him know he’s welcome to do), but he’s not very good at cleaning up after his animal friend. I’ve seen him several times watch as his dog does its business and then just walk away.

We have a neighbour who likes to call the city’s by-law department whenever she thinks that someone’s garden fence is too tall or garbage bin is left out too long or grass is growing too high (she wasn’t pleased when I planted an edible forest in my yard). We have a neighbour a little ways away who once marched my kid home for biking around the block unattended (and was outraged when I said I knew and approved of his excursion). We even had a neighbour (now moved away) who became quite belligerent, coming by to yell at me and throw things on my lawn.

This is the cost of having a village to raise your kids. Whenever you grow the community of friends and neighbours who will support one another, you inevitably run into all the little annoyances of being in relationship, and you also run into the people who would rather not be in relationship at all. You don’t get one without the other.

So, yes, it does take a village to raise children, but that process isn’t as easy as the cliche would make it seem. Building a community around you and your family is often tough. It takes time and effort. It comes with its own problems. So expect some setbacks. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Don’t get discouraged. The village is worth the cost.

Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.